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Thursday, February 7, 2013

HOW THE YANKEES STACK UP: STARTING ROTATION

We've examined the following here at BYB on how the Yankees will stack up in 2013: Catcher, 1st base, 2nd base, Shortstop, 3rd base, Left field, Centerfield and Right field.  Now, we look at the Starting Rotation...

Starting Rotation


The New York Yankees starters ranked sixth in the American League last season with a 4.04 ERA.  Their 71 wins was second to the Texas Rangers  (72) and their total innings pitched (1001.1) was behind only the Mariners (1002.2).

Overall one could say it was a fairly successful campaign for the starting five, but a closer look reveals a disturbing issue that needs to be addressed in 2013. 

Namely, the starters need to limit the number of long balls they allow.  In 2012 they were the worst in Major League Baseball yielding 143 round-trippers.   They were led by Phil Hughes (35 HR allowed) and Ivan Nova (28), and four of the five starters gave up 20 or more HR.  Even part-time starter Freddy Garcia teed up 18 wall-clearing shots for opposing batters.  In the post-season things weren’t much better as opponents clubbed 6 HR off starting pitchers in 9 games.

Where Manager Joe Girardi was depending upon his offense to provide game-turning long balls, instead his starters were handing them out to opponents like candy at a parade.

There is hope.

Ace CC Sabathia had what many considered to be an “off” year.  Even so, he won 15 games and posted a very respectable 3.38 ERA.  In his three previous seasons as a Yankee, Sabathia averaged 19 wins and a 3.18 ERA - and he had never allowed more than 20 HRs in a season (he gave up 22 in 2012).  Fans should expect a return to form for the southpaw that anchors the rotation.

Hiroki Kuroda was arguably the Yankees best pitcher in 2012.  He led the team in starts, innings pitched and tied for the most wins with Phil Hughes (16).  In July and August of last season, when the team suffered injuries to both Sabathia and Andy Pettitte, Kuroda had a 2.97 ERA and a microscopic 0.95 WHIP over 11 starts.  When the team needed someone to depend on, Hiroki stepped up.  At 38 years old the question will be whether he can maintain the level of play he established in 2012.  Given his calm demeanor, the veteran pitcher should turn in another solid year for our “Bombers”.

Andy Pettitte will have a full off season of preparation for the coming year and that should mean continued success for our beloved left hander.  Last season he led the rotation with a stellar 2.87 ERA but missed significant time (more than 2 months) with an ankle fracture the result of a line drive in a game against the Cleveland Indians.  At 40 years old his days with the Yankees certainly are numbered but given what he showed last season in leading the starters in WHIP (1.14) and holding opponents to a .232 batting average, one has to believe there is still something in the tank.

In spite of the home runs he allowed, Phil Hughes had a bounce-back year in 2012.  Over 191-plus innings pitched he threw to a 4.19 ERA and rediscovered the fastball many thought he had lost.  The 26-year old (yes, that’s right, he’s still only 26) was signed to a one year $7.15 million contract and will have plenty of incentive to raise the level of his game while reducing the number of home runs he allows.  He is solidly entrenched as the Yankees fourth starter.

The fifth spot in the rotation will be up for grabs during spring training.  The two primary competitors for the job are a pair of 26-year olds – Ivan Nova and David Phelps.

If last season was used to choose between them, Phelps would already have been named to the role.  During the year he held a 3.34 ERA and a respectable 1.19 WHIP (as a starter he was 2 – 2 with a 3.77 ERA).  In 99 1/3 innings, he struck out 96 and walked 38.  When the fifth spot was in turmoil last season, Phelps settled into the role and gave it stability.

Two seasons ago Ivan Nova looked like the right handed version of CC Sabathia.  As a 24-year old he went 16 – 4 with a 3.70 ERA.  Going into 2012, his spot in the rotation was more certain than that of Phil Hughes.

Oh what a difference a year makes.  Last year was a nightmare for the young hurler as he went 12 – 8 with a 5.02 ERA and gave up 194 hits, 56 walks and 28 home runs in a little over 170 innings pitched.  Many called for his demotion to the minor leagues and he wasn’t called upon at all in the post season. 

Nova enters 2013 with a renewed determination to reclaim a spot in the rotation and is one of a small group of players already working out at the Yankees minor league complex in Tampa.  If he can return to his 2011 form, fans can once again look forward to seeing him take the mound every fifth day in the Bronx.

Here’s what the rest of the AL East will offer in the form of rotations:

Toronto Blue Jays: On paper the starting five of RA Dickey, Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, Brandon Morrow and Ricky Romero certainly looks impressive.  Some things to keep in mind:  How will Dickey handle facing American League lineups every time he steps on the mound (the Yankees were quite successful in the game they faced him)?  Will Josh Johnson manage to stay healthy all season – he’s only pitched more than 200 innings once in his career.  33-year old Mark Buehrle has been the closest thing to a punching bag for the Yankees that they can get.  In his career he is 1 – 5 with a 6.38 ERA, 1.38 WHIP and has allowed 10 HR verses New York.  Morrow and Romero are both excellent young pitchers to bring up the back end.

Baltimore Orioles: The Orioles starters ranked ninth in the AL last season with a 4.42 ERA and allowed the third most home runs (136).  This is a young rotation whose “senior” man is 31-year old Jason Hammel.  He is followed by 28-year old Wei-Yin Chen, 25-year old Chris Tillman, 29-year old Miguel Gonzalez, and 26-year old Brian Matusz.  They combined to go 5 – 4 with a 4.66 ERA against the Yankees (Gonzalez alone was 2 – 0 with a 2.63 ERA).  It is a rotation on the upswing and should keep Baltimore in contention for years to come.

Tampa Bay Rays: The Rays will once again field a strong rotation.  2012 Cy Young award winner David Price continues to only get better, and he is followed by Jeremy Hellickson (10 wins, 3.10 ERA), Matt Moore (11 wins, 3.81 ERA), Alex Cobb (11 wins, 4.03 ERA), and Jeff Niemann (3.08 ERA in 8 starts last year).  They are young (average age is 26.8) and last season led the American League in ERA (3.34) and strikeouts (900).  Frankly, this rotation is the one the rest of the division must keep up with.


Boston Red Sox: The Red Sox rotation is a mixed bag of talent, and it is anyone’s guess as to how it all will turn out.  Jon Lester heads up the starting five and comes off a disappointing 2012 season in which he was 8 – 14 with a career-high 4.82 ERA.  In 2010 Clay Buchholz was 17 – 7 with a 2.33 ERA.  He is 17 – 11 with a 4.02 ERA in the two years since.  26-year old southpaw Felix Doubront shows great promise (11 wins in 2012).  35-year old chicken and beer loving, meatball serving John Lackey will return to the rotation for the first time since 2011 and fans shouldn’t expect much but plenty of souvenirs beyond the outfield wall when he takes the mound.  36-year old Ryan Dempster was signed in the off season by the Red Sox and could prove to be a solid part of the rotation if he can handle the switch to the American League (after an entire career spent in the NL).

Here’s how we see the rotations of the AL East stacking up:
  1. Tampa Bay: Young and already successful.  They are scary-good.
  2. Baltimore: I just have a feeling that this team is on the rise. 
  3. New York: A Sabathia bounce-back, healthy Pettitte for a full season, and the competition for the fifth spot will make this an under-the-radar strength for the Yankees.
  4. Toronto: A very high-risk, high –reward situation for the Blue Jays.  If all pitch to what their “book value” is, this team will be in the post season.  This team has an “all or nothing” feel to it.
  5. Boston: Lester should bounce back, Buchholtz is anyone’s guess, Doubront will improve, Lackey is a waste of money and Dempster could be a hidden gem.  I still see them fifth.
What do you think?  Let us know!


 
--Steve Skinner, BYB Guest Writer
Twitter: @oswegos1

 

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